IQ "It's not what you've been doing that's important now', said Natalia grabbing his hand once again. 'It's what you will be doing.'" pg. 129
Devin's wife and unborn child have been killed by a 'deranged' man (who also raped Devin's wife). Devin is determined to exact revenge and successful kills the man who murdered his family. Devin is then killed accidentally by the police and has to deal with the consequences of his life in the afterlife.
This book has a message to tell and it must be told. That's not a good thing because this book is so concerned with making sure it gets it's various messages across, the plot disappears. Revenge is bad, be careful what you wish for, don't make fun of other people, every action has a consequence, etc, etc. Interesting messages to be sure but they are so straight forward that the author would have been better off leaving out Devin, Nadine and Natalia and just writing a non-fiction about religion and life in general. The author does a whole lot of telling, and much of it is unnecessary. Allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions is a marvelous thing and the author does not utilize this skill. Furthermore the author seems like he's trying to hard to make sure people know his novel is diverse. At one point we read "the stockier football player dwarfed the 140-pound Jewish kid."(pg. 105). That sentence had no relevance to the story (in fact I didn't understand the point of seeing Devin as a teenager which occurs in this scene), especially because later on the kid talks about his yarmulke. From that sentence alone, a reader could figure out the kid is Jewish. But it doesn't seem as though the author trusted the reader to draw their own conclusions, thus the overcompensation.
It's obvious that the author feels very passionately about what he's writing about and I liked the diversity of the characters but there are too many inconsistencies, stilted dialogue and slow action. The chapters are long and end dramatically such as "[t]he answer to this question would lead to a multitude of unintended consequences." (pg. 32). That's overly dramatic and I don't like ominous foreshadowing. At one point in the novel, Natalia (an angel) is said to have "the charming English accent of a Kenyan." (pg. 95) but then on page 107, the author tells us she's from Rwanda. She never leaves Rwanda so how does she have a Kenyan accent? Or was the author trying to show that Devin just assumed things? It was too unclear. The ideas the author has surrounding the afterlife are intriguing (God is absent until the end of the world, angels vs. demons vs. Paladin), but unfortunately there were too many flaws for me to simply overlook.
Disclosure: Received for review from author. Thank you!
PS Off color because the main character is white but Nadine is Latina and Natalia is from Rwanda, two important secondary characters.
Better Than I Know Myself by Virginia Deberry & Donna Grant 2004
St. Martin's Press
IQ "at this point in their friendship, the method of communication wasn't relevant, they were connected whether it was across a table, via email or by string and a Dixie cup." pg. 359
Carmen grew up in the projects, raised by her abusive brother after her father died and her mother left. Jewell is a former Hollywood-child starlet. Even today her face is still recognized across America. Regina is a BAP (Black American Princess) raised comfortably by her upper middle class father and mother. They meet at Barnard (Columbia's university for women, I didn't know as recently as the '80s Columbia hadn't gone co-ed!) and while Jewell and Regina hit it off right away, Carmen remains closed off and icy. Carmen wants to ace all her classes, keep her head down, become a doctor and never look back at her crappy childhood. Jewell doesn't know what she wants to do and Regina loves throwing parties. Life is going to be full of bumps, bruises and joyrides but through it all, they've got each other.
This book starts off with a good prologue, one that will keep you reading even when the book inches by. In the prologue, one of the three friends has died. For the first time in what feels like forever, I actually predicted right (although I didn't see the Marcus plotline!). And there are absolutely no clues because all three girls constantly face life or death situations and get themselves into some serious scrapes. I do wish the Deberry & Grant books were less dramatic. Yes life is hard but would one person really go through as much as the characters do? It's more than a little over the top and after awhile I was sick and tired of the tragedy, I was emotionally drained and not in a good way. And this is a more personal thing but I picked up this book hoping it would discuss more about being and in college. Didn't happen but that was just as a result of different expectations, not a big deal.
However, once again there is a really strong friendship between this three women and that makes me happy. It takes a little while for them all to become friends (yes sometimes future-friends don't hit it off right away!) but that makes the end product that much better. There are also discussions of class that aren't so obvious. All three girls come from different socioeconomic backgrounds and that does affect their outlook on life but so do their parent situations and other things they went through going up. Just like being Black doesn't define them, neither does being rich/poor/middle class. I wish there were lighter moments and some chapters could have been greatly whittled down but all in all this was a nice read about the strongest of friendships and living life to the fullest because "it's not like we don't have to think about tomorrow but a life is something you build-and the tomorrows won't add up to much if we haven't been countin the todays." (Ty, pg. 367)
Disclosure: Bought :)
Faber & Faber LTD
IQ "I believe happiness is only possible if you follow your own feeling, your intuition, your real desires. Only unhappiness is gained by acting in accordance with duty, or obligation, or guilt, or the desire to please others. You must accept happiness when you can, not selfishly, but remembering you are a part of the world, of others, not separate from them. Should people pursue their own happiness at the expense of others? Or should they be unhappy so others can be happy? There's no one who hasn't had to confront this problem." The Buddha of Suburbia (aka Karim's dad aka God) pg. 76
Karim is a bicultural (half Indian on his father's side, half English on his mother's) teenager growing up in the suburbs of south London during the '70s. He's desperate to escape to London and find himself, while figuring out why his father left his mother, and why he is attracted to girls and guys. furthermore how did his father became the 'buddha of suburbia' a
wise 'Indian' mystic to bored subrbanites looking for something 'exoctic.'? And what is Karim going to do after high school (or secondary school as I believe it's called in the UK?)
Karim is a strange kid but amusing. He doesn't intend to be funny but his reasoning behind his actions and speculation as to why people act the way they do are sometimes way off (or so it seems. I suspect since this is a literary book everything probably could have some kind of deep meaning) but sometimes they are dead-on. The book starts off rather slowly but if you stick with it, you may very well end up enjoying it. I liked it a lot more than I thought I would, mainly because as an American I know very little about life in the UK but I just finished studing the UK for my Comparative Government class so I had some background/cultural context. This book makes it clear that in London at least (and I suspect the entire UK), class comes first, followed by race as divisions in society. While I can't test to the authenticity of the novel's London setting (although it won the WhiteBread Award, ha ironic name), it felt very real to me and I was impressed with how the author described the UK (specifically England) through his characters in both subtle and non subtle ways. "England's decrepit. No one believes in anything. Here, it's money and success. But people are motivated. They do things. England's a nice place if you're rich, but otherwise it's a f***ing swamp pf prejudice, class confusion, the whole thing. nothing works over there. And no one works-" (Charlie, pg. 256). The novel takes place when unemployment is on the rise and there are widespread strikes. Margaret Thatcher will soon come to power, after the Winter of Discontent.
Class differences are also shown through the adults in Karim's life. Karim's dad, Haroon is a civil servant and he hates his job, he comes from a wealthy family in India and doesn't know how to take care of himself. Yet in England, he is seen as a second-class citizen because he is a lowly servant AND Indian. The woman Haroon leaves his wife (and Karim's mum) for, Eva, is a social climber. I have no idea where she gets her money from but she is able to spend it on idle pursuits, like parading around the buddha of suburbia and trying to find her place in London society. Karim's mother is devastated after his father leaves and she doesn't handle it well. She doesn't want to leave the house and when she finally does, she has no desire to work. When she finally starts dating again, more than one person notes that she's dating an Englishman and Karim 'feels somewhat betrayed' that she's not dating another Indian. I was puzzled as to why Karim had a brother, Allie. I forgot all about him because he appears so infrequently, he should have been written off. I admit, I would put this book down and then find it hard to get back into the story. Gradually, it picks up and just like Karim never stops talking, this book has something to say about everything; from class differences, divorce, and racism to life in the suburbs and being bi-sexual. Karim is a class-A jerk and his decisions will leave you in disbelief, but that makes the book entertaining and riveting. Be warned: if you don't like graphic sex, you won't like this book but if you can overlook that (and I recommend that you do), you will find yourself in for a treat.
Disclosure: From Trish, <3
PS Another favorite quote "[...]and asked Jammie if I could tell Helen what was happening. [Karim]
'Yes, if you want to expose our culture as being ridiculous and our people as old-fashioned, extreme and narrow-minded'." Jamila pg. 71
That quote is telling because I think it speaks to the fear people from different cultures/ethnic backgrounds can have of opening up to Westerners/white people, for fear of confirming stereotypes and not 'uplifting the race.' But that's just my very brief interpretation since this review is long as is :)